On a historically significant day for the franchise, the Carolina Hurricanes picked up an important regulation victory that helped them move up the standings.
Victor Rask scored the go-ahead goal in the third period and Scott Darling made 26 saves as the Hurricanes beat the Metropolitan Division-leading Washington Capitals 3-1 on Thursday night, hours after the team's sale to Dallas billionaire Tom Dundon was finalized. The two points helped Carolina leapfrog the idle Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins to move into a playoff position after 43 games.
"Two points in regulation is the only way you can really make up any ground," coach Bill Peters said. "You better make hay when the sun shines, and it was a nice day here in Washington today."
It'll be an even nicer day Friday in Raleigh when Dundon, Commissioner Gary Bettman and previous majority owner Peter Karmanos discuss the sale that should at least temporarily quiet relocation speculation. The NHL on Thursday announced Dundon had completed his purchase of the Hurricanes, who are expected to stay put for the foreseeable future.
"It's exciting," said Darling, who won for the first time since Dec. 16 in a rare start. "We all had a chance to meet him. He seems like a great guy. He has a lot of big plans, and we're excited to see it all unfold."
Co-captain Jordan Staal scored a short-handed goal and Sebastian Aho added an empty-netter for Carolina, which improved to 9-7-8 in one-goal games. Winger Justin Williams, who left Washington after two seasons, said the difference between the first-place Capitals and the Hurricanes was the disparity in their performances in tight games.
The Capitals fell to 12-3-3 in one-goal games and had their five-game winning streak and league-best 10-game home winning streak snapped. Players were unhappy that Rask's goal came after they thought defenseman Brooks Orpik touched the puck to stop play on a delayed penalty call.
"That one we all thought was a clear play on the puck," Orpik said. "We all were confused by it and frustrated by it, especially when that winds up being the winning goal."
Lars Eller scored for the third consecutive game and Braden Holtby made 30 saves for Washington, which lost at home for the first time since Nov. 30.
"They had been on a pretty good run here at home, and they're a tough team to play against," Aho said. "But so are we."
Outshooting and beating the Capitals was an important statement for the Hurricanes, who are seeking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and end what is the longest active in the NHL. Finding some consistency against a division opponent is a good way to continue on that path.
"It's good for our confidence, good for our confidence in our system," said Darling, who felt comfortable all night and stopped Alex Ovechkin late to preserve the victory. "When we play the right way, we're not going to win 6-1. It's going to be close games, and that's the kind of team we are. If we do the right things, we're going to get the advantage on the one-goal games."
NOTES: Peters said Hurricanes C Derek Ryan was fine after taking a high hit from Tom Wilson that led to the delayed penalty in the third period. Peters figured Ryan was going through concussion protocol and didn't have enough time to return. ... Hurricanes D Brett Pesce was a surprise scratch with an upper-body injury. Pesce took a spill while trying to take a slap shot during the morning skate, and Peters said he'll be re-evaluated back home Friday. ... Staal's 34 short-handed points are one shy of Matt Cullen for the most among active players. .... Only four teams have allowed more short-handed goals this season than Washington's six. ... Capitals F Andre Burakovsky was a late scratch with an illness. Coach Barry Trotz said Burakovsky wasn't traveling with the team to Carolina.
The Hurricanes host the Capitals on Friday night in the second half of the home-and-home series. It's their third meeting in 10 days.
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